Big Heart Falls
King County, Washington
High up in the basin of the West Fork of the Foss River in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the outlets of three major lakes all spill into secluded Delta Lake, when then produces the aforementioned river from its outlet. Each of these three streams feeding into Delta Lake produces a significant waterfall and this phenomena is largely responsible for the Foss River basin having one of the highest concentration of high-quality waterfalls in Washington State.
Big Heart Lake is the westerly and smallest of the three tributary river sources, but produces the largest waterfall in the Foss River basin. As its outlet stream exits Big Heart Lake, the water immediately begins sliding down broad granite slabs, alternating in cascades and plunges. For the next half mile run between the outlet of Big Heart Lake and the inlet of Delta Lake, the stream drops over a huge, continuous series of falls totaling 1,262 feet in height - nearly the entire elevation change between Big Heart and Delta Lakes. The falls are broken into two distinct sections, the upper standing about 450 feet tall and the lower about 700 feet, with the difference made up in a short pause between the two drops. As the stream braids down the side of the valley it can stretch to as much as 250 feet wide in places, though separated by dozens of little islands and ridges in most cases. The falls can be seen in tandem with neighboring Angeline Falls, creating a very strong dynamic between the two dramatically different waterfalls.
The drainage which fuels this waterfall consists of Big Heart Lake and not much else. While the lake is one of the largest in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, there is no permanent ice melting into its basin, so once the winter snow has melted from the surrounding peaks (which usually won't be until mid to late August) the volume of water exiting the lake will quickly drop and the falls will lose much of their luster. This, coupled with the facts that approaching the base of the falls closely is very difficult and that much of the falls is obscured by trees or foreshortening even when viewed from across Delta Lake, prevent Big Heart Falls from achieving the top-class ranking which it otherwise might deserve.
History and Naming
Big Heart Falls is the Unofficial name of this waterfall.
Because there is no real easy up-close access to this waterfall, it isn't so much a location to shoot artistically - at least where the falls are the focus. The falls face northeast and will see the best light in the morning hours. From mid-afternoon to the evening hours the sun will transit right above the falls, which creates severe issues with light fringing, lens flares and contributes to significant haze in the valley, all of which makes shooting the falls difficult. A telephoto maxing out at 300mm or more is handy for close ups of isolated sections of the falls - many of which are quite interesting.
Location & Directions
Coordinates: 47.58419, -121.31866 Elevation: 4566 feet USGS Map: Big Snow Mountain 7 1/2"
Big Heart Falls is found in the Foss River valley off Highway 2 near Skykomish. Take Highway 2 east from Skykomish to the Skykomish Ranger Station, then continue another half-mile and turn right onto the Foss River Road. Follow the road for 4 1/2 miles and turn left where the main road continues straight, following signs for the West Fork Foss Trail, then proceed to its end at the trailhead in another 2 miles. Set out on West Fork Foss Trail #1062, which parallels the Foss River for about three-quarters of a mile to a new bridge spanning the river below some pretty cascades, then climbs for another three quarters of a mile to Trout Lake.
Continue for another half mile past Trout Lake to where the trail intersects the booming stream. A path leads down to the creek, looking upstream at a small cascade. The top of Middle Copper Falls lies immediately downstream. Look for a fairly well trodden boot path which leads steeply downstream along Middle Copper Falls and then Lower Copper Falls to a ford point. During high water the creek can be deep and swift so crossing on a log may be the safer route. On the south side of Copper Creek look for pink flagging leading to the continuation of the trail, which heads up the West Fork to Delta Lake and beyond. The trail which winds in and out of interchanging thickets of brush and groves of forest for another two-thirds of a mile before reaching the base Lower Foss River Falls.
From here it begins climbing steeply up the headwall. After leveling out and navigating around dozens of large mossy boulders, it begins climbing again - this time along side Upper Foss River Falls. The outlet of Delta Lake is reached about 1.3 miles after leaving the West Fork Foss Lakes trail. Cross the river on the logjam where Angeline Falls can be seen at the far end of the lake. Big Heart Falls isn't visible until having circumnavigated at least halfway around Delta Lake. Cross (wading may be necessary) the second outlet of the lake and traverse clockwise around the east shore (the trail beyond the outlet of the lake is considerably brushier and in some areas potentially dangerous) to a campsite where the outlet stream from Otter Lake enters from the left and the best views of Big Heart Falls are had from the lake shore. Total distance from the trailhead to the best views of the falls via this route is a little over 4 1/4 miles.
The top of Big Heart Falls can be looked over from the West Fork Foss Lakes Trail where it crosses the outlet of Big Heart Lake, approximately 7 miles from the trailhead. It appears possible to scramble down part of the top of the falls, but going to far downstream one will run into cliffs which restrict travel.
Other Nearby Waterfalls
By The Numbers
The information presented in this table is meant to help identify and clarify the physical aspects of the waterfall for comparative purposes. While we try to ensure this information is as accurate as possible, sometimes it will prove necessary to either estimate or flat out guess at certain characteristics where either enough information isn't readily available, is not known, or we were not able to confirm a given trait upon surveying. This information may be changed at any given time to ensure accuracy.
The Total Height listed for the waterfall represents the difference in elevation from the top of the uppermost drop, to the bottom of the lowermost drop of the waterfall, including all stretches of interstitial stream in between. Stream between two tiers of a waterfall is counted in its overall height regardless of whether or not that section of the stream would be legitimately considered a waterfall on its own right, were it to be isolated. Waterfalls with only one drop will of have the height of only the single drop listed here.
The Tallest Drop figure represents the height of the largest single drop within a multi-stepped waterfall. Waterfalls with only one drop will have the total height of the waterfall repeated here.
Num of Drops
The Number of Drops in a waterfall is a tally of the total number of distinct drops which make up the waterfall. Stretches of interstitial stream in between two or more distinct drops of a single waterfall are NOT considered to be distinct drops of the waterfall unless the section of stream in question would otherwise qualify as a waterfall were it to be isolated.
The Average Width of the waterfall represents the breadth of the waterfall from bank to bank under typical flow conditions, or if the waterfall has been Cataloged, under the conditions which it was most thoroughly surveyed. Often this number will be approximated because of a lack of approachability to many waterfalls. We often utilize Google Earth to measure the width (where imagery is of sufficient quality and resolution to allow it.
Maximum Width represents a hypothetical measurement of roughly how wide a waterfall could get during peak streamflow or flood conditions. For smaller waterfalls, this figure will generally not differ much from the Average Width measurement, but for broader waterfalls - especially those that feature a crest that isn't constricted - this figure can at times be consideraby larger. Like the Average Width measurement, this measurement will take into account the difference in width at the top and bottom of the waterfall as much as possible, but will often be made based on the width of the crest of th falls alone.
The Pitch of a waterfall is an estimated - often very roughly - measure of the average slope or steepness of a waterfall. The Pitch figure only takes into account sections of stream which are actively falling. Pools or stretches of level stream in between two or more successive drops of the falls will not factor in this figure. As an example, a waterfall which features two truly free-falling leaps separated by several dozen yards of flat stream will have a Pitch of 90 degrees. Similarly, a waterfall with two drops separated by a pool, one with a true free-falling drop, and one with a Horsetail type fall will average the two, so while the Plunging drop has a Pitch of 90 degrees, if the Horsetail drop has a Pitch of 45 degrees, the total Pitch will be roughly 67 degrees.
The Run of a waterfall is a measurement representing the total linear distance on the ground between the top and bottom of a waterfall. This figure is not often easy to establish with a high degree of precision and as such will often be estimated. Waterfalls with a longer Run will usually either be less steep, often cascading type waterfalls, or will feature multiple steps separated by shorter stretches of a more gradual gradient streambed.
The system of classification of waterfall forms we use is a heavily modified derivative of the classifications outlined by Greg Plumb in his "Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest" books. While plumb uses eight distnct forms, we wanted further granularity and opted to break down the hierarchy twofold: first based on the overall pitch of the waterfall, and then based on what shape the fall takes as it makes its descent. There are five primary Categories of falls in this system: Plunge, Horsetail, Steep Cascades, Shallow Cascades, and Rapids. Additional deliniation is then applied depending on characteristics such as the breadth of the falls, whether it splits into two or more channels, whether it falls in multiple successive drops, etc. For more information on our waterfall form classifications, see the Help page.
The watershed which a waterfall occurs within, if it is specified, will be based on the ultimate distributary watercourse to the ocean. For example, Washington's Palouse Falls occurs along the Palouse River - which is a tributary to the Snake River, which is itself a tributary to the Columbia River, which ultimately enters the Pacific Ocean, so Palouse Falls would then fall within the Columbia River watershed. Streams which empty directly into the ocean, or into a minor basin which then empties to the ocean will often have this field left blank.
The name of the watercourse which the waterfall occurs along. If the watercourse is not known to have an officially or colloquially recognized name, this field is left blank.
The volume of water present in the stream at the location of the waterfall. This is often the most difficult figure to pin down because accurately measuring streamflow is not a simple process. We will rely on USGS data as much as possible, and attempt to take into account seasonal fluctuations in stream levels if possible. There is no guarantee that this figure will be accurate, and in cases where there is no USGS data to use, it may be a very, very rough estimate at best.
If known, the primary source of the watercourse which produces the waterfall will be listed here. This is helpful in determining whether a waterfall may flow more consistently during certain periods of the year - streams which originate in Springs, Lakes, or Glaciers will often flow more consistently throughout the year than those fueled by simply Runoff. The source of the stream may also be either unknown or undetermined.
A rough estimation of how many months out of the year the stream which produces the waterfall will actually hold water. The vast majority of waterfalls featured on this website will technically be truly perennial waterfalls (those that flow all year long), but some may see their flow dwindle greatly in the late summer months. This figure will not take into account the winter months when the waterfall may freeze, because in such cases the waterfall will very often be inaccessible. Entries which specify a Flow Consistncy of 12 Months should in general have an acceptable flow at any time of year (but may be better during certain periods - see below).
A general estimate of the best period of the year during which time the falls will be considered at optimal conditions, or flowing at their best. There may be variance within the range specified where the flow will be better or worse, but visiting at any time in the range specified (if available) will generally present the waterfall in its best light.Close
CatalogedWaterfalls which are Cataloged we have visited and surveyed in person. Statistical information should be quite accurate (for the most part), and exact measurements will often be available (information is not guaranteed to always be up to date). Detailed information, directions, and photographs will almost always be available.
ConfirmedConfirmed Waterfalls are known to exist, should be relatively accurately mapped and geotagged, and the statistical information available will often be dependable. If height information is presented, it may be estimated but should be accurate. Directions will not likely be available.
UnconfirmedUnconfirmed Waterfalls are often marked on a published map, but we have yet to confirm the exact location and / or whether or not its stature is significant enough to qualify for listing in the database. Statistical information may be estimated and may be inaccurate. No directions.
UnknownWaterfalls marked as Unknown are either suspected to exist based on heresay or a hunch, or we have received unverified information suggesting a waterfall may exist near the location provided but cannot corroborate it in any way. Geodata may not be accurate, the location may not be known at all, and statistical information will be estimated and highly inaccurate.
InundatedInundated Waterfalls have been submerged beneath lakes or reservoirs, usually a result of impoundment of a river behind a dam, and most often no longer functionally exist (there may be rare exceptions). We maintain records for these features out of historical importance.
DisqualifiedWaterfalls which have been marked as Disqualified do not have the necessary stature or features to qualify as a legitimate waterfall according to our criteria. We will maintain records for entries with this status where the feature is well known and / or may have been historically referred to as a waterfall at some point in time.
PostedPosted Waterfalls are known to exist, and we may have a large amount of information associated with them, but are located on private property and are not legally accessible to the general public. Accessing waterfalls with this status should not be attempted without first being explicitly granted permission of the property owner.